The holiday shopping season just isn’t complete without hearty servings of juicy turkey, fluffy mashed potatoes, and big sales numbers for ecommerce merchants. The boon that online retailers experience on Black Friday and Cyber Monday has increased year after year, and that’s a trend with no end in sight. It’s basically become its own holiday tradition.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to keep many people away from brick-and-mortar stores and shopping malls, and consumers have embraced online shopping for the long haul. As a result, 2021’s online sales from Black Friday and Cyber Monday are predicted to hit $207 billion for the holiday season overall, a 10% increase from last year.
Historically, Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM) have become transactional moments for businesses hoping to cash in by attracting customers with sales on big-ticket items or to generate leads and increase revenue. However, it’s crucial to remember that a brand is more than just Black Friday.
At the end of the day, a brand is a relationship with a customer that should last the entire year, not just the last quarter.
But while a great brand isn’t just a good Black Friday BOGO deal, it’s true that ecommerce companies can use BFCM to lay the foundation for a standout customer relationship that goes beyond dollars and cents. The holiday shopping season is a very emotional experience with customers. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands need to capture that experience as part of their story and use that story to connect with the customer year-round.
In this guide, we will outline ways to develop long-lasting and authentic relationships that linger way beyond the holiday shopping season.
Don’t Wait Until the Holiday Season to Connect with Customers
Customer loyalty beyond Black Friday is easier when you have a relationship with shoppers well before the holiday shopping season. Customers tend to buy from brands they trust, and studies suggest brand trust can be a deal-breaker or deciding factor when they’re considering a purchase.
The relationship-building process is a lifecycle that first begins with identifying who you want to target. Who is your customer? Trying to target everyone could cost a lot of money and garner very little ROI. Get specific with who you’re talking to and suddenly the story becomes more personal and resonates deeper with shoppers.
Then, learn what your customers really care about (i.e., their values), what their needs are, and how your brand will fulfill those needs. The secret to staying relevant with customers in ecommerce is to put yourself in the shoes of people and show empathy with them before starting the sales or nurturing process.
This is how you can build trust leading up to the holiday season. Whether it’s Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Easter, or the Super Bowl, building relationships with customers is not about what you want to sell. It’s about what the customer needs to buy and how you can make the process as easy as possible.
This process is also true for any relationships you want to build, whether it is relationships with customers, influencers, or partners. We discussed this in-depth during Route Connect 2021. Tune in and hear ecommerce experts detail their own relationship insights.
The Customer Relationship Starts with Your Brand Story
Connecting with customers always begins with a story—your brand story. Ecommerce is fiercely competitive and if you want to stand out, especially during the holiday shopping season, you need to connect with customers through compelling and relatable storytelling.
According to Forbes, brand storytelling is the “cohesive narrative that weaves together the facts and emotions that your brand evokes.” In addition to giving ecommerce customers reasons why they should purchase a product or service, businesses need to share the story behind their brand, why the brand exists, and why the brand matters. This story should be consistently shared across all communication channels—emails, social media platforms, websites—all year, not just when Santa decor goes up around stores.
A brand’s story is more than just profit margins and statistics; the story should make your brand authentic, memorable, and real. The story should highlight your brand’s history, challenges, successes, and values. It humanizes the brand and the customer experience. The holiday season is a chapter in that story, not the entire narrative of a brand.
A great example of a brand story is Toms Shoes. According to the company, the founder Blake Mycoskie witnessed the hardships faced by children growing up without shoes. He saw this firsthand while traveling through Argentina. This experience inspired the creation of Toms Shoes, a company that matches every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need. The story has since evolved to include handbags that are sent to women in need.
This example highlights just how powerful a brand’s story can be in helping to create connections with consumers.
Communication Is Key to Customer Relationships: Don’t Get Lost in the Noise
The holiday season is filled with advertisements, SMS campaigns, Facebook ads, and email blasts. The challenge is to ensure that your brand’s voice doesn’t get lost in all the noise that’s turned up to 11 during the holidays.
Once you identify your target audience and have a strategy for sharing your story, now you need to focus marketing on where your specific audience is spending the most time. Is it on Instagram or Facebook? How often do your emails get opened by consumers? Do you have effective text messaging (SMS) campaigns? Once you identify your key marketing channels, invest time and money using these channels to reach your customers.
One of the most popular current marketing channels is social media. And for a good reason. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become engrained in the marketing ecosystems for small and large businesses. Social media provides ecommerce marketers with an inexpensive way to build brand awareness, engage with target audiences, and generate leads. Plus, this may be no surprise, it’s consumed regularly by shoppers around the world. A study from the Pew Research Center in 2021 found that roughly seven-in-10 Americans say they use social media regularly with YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram leading the charge. Many companies outsource social media management to capitalize on this trend
If you are just starting an ecommerce business, social media is actually a great first start to your marketing strategy. With more than 240 million active social media users in the United States alone, marketers can use social media to begin market research and refine tactics that will provide valuable data to your business.
Lastly, remember to stay flexible. Your target audience may change over time, or their primary shopping channels could shift. If your customers stop coming from a channel you implement today, don’t fear adapting.
Personalize the Customer Experience with Data
Speaking of data, using cookies to track every transaction, no matter what time of year, unlocks crucial information about customers. Cookies are used to help track website visitors, improve the user experience, and collect valuable data that allows companies to target online advertisements to the right audiences. In addition, companies can analyze how customers interact with their brand, empowering those brands to create new customer relationships while retaining existing customers.
Cookies come in different flavors, including first- and third-party cookies. Google announced in early 2020 that it plans to eliminate third-party cookies by 2023. Chrome will join several internet browsers that have since blocked third-party cookies by default. This means the first-party cookie jar will be the one to fill with data to help your ecommerce brand build relationships with customers beyond the holiday shopping season.
First-party cookies are stored by the websites, allowing each to collect analytics data to provide a better, more seamless user experience. These cookies will allow websites to remember preferences such as passwords and languages, as well as anything saved to shopping carts and any keywords used in the search fields.
Before, during, and after the holiday shopping season, you need to unpack the data captured from first-party cookies. The data will help you to fine-tune the customer experience. If you haven’t already, set up event tracking for campaigns that will derive anonymized data that comes directly from the interactions your users have with your websites.
Don’t Let Supply Chain Bottlenecks Be the Grinch
In 2021, ecommerce has a big elephant in the room: ongoing supply chain issues seen across the globe. The disruptions started more than a year ago as governments and corporations responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Combined with exploding consumer demand, there are now transportation bottlenecks and product shortages. And there is no crystal ball prediction on when these issues will be resolved. Even if an ecommerce company can get products, the next challenge will be delivery. Customers expect to receive packages on time, even during the holiday season.
One late package can break the trust customers have with your brand. It’s crucial that you stay on top of the supply chain for your business all year round. Here are a few tips to protecting your ecommerce business against supply chain disruptions:
1) Invest in the right technology for inventory and shipping.
2) Diversify partnerships with suppliers and manufacturers.
3) If you haven’t already, incorporate risk management into your supply chain.
4) Conduct ongoing cash-flow forecasting.
5) Create backup inventory during busy shopping periods.
Build Long-Standing Relationships All Year Long
The holiday shopping season will be here and gone in a blink of an eye. And while the season will help generate revenue, it is also an opportunity to continue to build relationships with customers that will last all year. Preparing for the holiday rush should begin well before Black Friday. Crafting a memorable brand story and using data and marketing channels to amplify the narrative can help ensure your ecommerce company will get more than just coal in its stocking.